Boris Johnson has said it appears P&O Ferries broke the law when it suddenly fired 800 workers and the government will take action.
The prime minister said that if the company was found guilty, it could risk fines running into the millions.
He made the comments under the Prime Minister’s question shortly after the head of P&O Ferries issued a public apology for the sudden dismissal of 800 workers on British contracts last Thursday.
Pressed on the question by Labor leader Keir Starmer, Johnson said: “We do not want to sit next to each other, because under section 194 of the Trade Union and Labor Relations Act of 1992, it appears that the company in question has broken the law. , and we will therefore act, and we will encourage the workers themselves to act in accordance with the 1996 Employment Rights Act. “
He added: “If the company is found guilty, it risks fines amounting to millions of pounds, and in addition we will take steps to protect all seafarers working in British waters and ensure that they are all paid the living wage. “
Johnson, however, ruled out taking further action against the Dubai-based owner of P&O Ferries, DP World, which is to benefit from £ 50m. in tax breaks by operating two of the government’s new free ports.
Asked by Starmer to “guarantee that these companies will not receive a penny more of taxpayers’ money or a single tax deduction before reinstating the workforce”, Johnson replied: “We will take them to court, we will defend the rights of British workers. What. what we do not want to do is launch a wholehearted campaign that they want against overseas investment because it is completely wrong and wrong for these workers. “
Starmer said other workers would fear for their jobs if P&O “got away with it” and that they would not take comfort from the prime minister’s “half-assed bullshit today”.
Johnson insisted: “P&O clearly does not want to get away with it any more than any other company that treats its employees in the scandalous way.”
Meanwhile, the head of P&O Ferries, who is due to resign for MPs on Thursday, said he was sorry and “wished there was another way”.
After stopping sailing and firing 786 people on eight ships around the UK last week, many via video message, to replace them with cheaper crews earning as little as £ 1.80 an hour, said Peter Hebblethwaite, CEO for P&O Ferries: “I would like to apologize to the people and their families for the impact it has had on them and also to the 2,200 people who still work for P&O and will have been asked a lot of difficult questions about this. . “
He added: “Over the last week, I have talked face to face with seafarers and their partners. They have lost their jobs and there is anger and shock and I fully understand that.”
But he said: “We needed fundamental changes to make us viable. All other routes led to the closure of P&O Ferries. I wish there was another way and I’m sorry.”
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “We have no interest in half-hearted apologies that do absolutely nothing to get our member their jobs and livelihoods back. This is just a cynical PR stunt by a company desperate to try to save his reputation. “
On Tuesday, P&O Ferries wrote to the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, saying it had not acted illegally as it had notified the relevant authorities of its ships flying the flag of Cyprus, Bermuda and the Bahamas – but not until March 17, the morning of the layoffs.
TUC said it still had to face prosecution for its failure to consult staff. Its secretary general, Frances O’Grady, said: “Despite all their blasts and denials, all indications are that P&O is breaking the law. British law requires companies to consult with workers and unions before making redundancies. In their letter to the ministers last night, the company is clear that they did not do this.
“On every side, P&O surpasses itself with its shameful behavior. It’s time for P&O to come clean – and reinstate all fired staff.”